Afghanistan's Football Federation won the 2013 FIFA Fair Play award at the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013 soccer awards ceremony in Zurich on Monday, after hosting their first international match at home, a friendly against Pakistan.
"It takes a great amount of dedication and hard work to develop football at grassroots level, to build infrastructure for the game so that it can grow, and to nurture a national league in the midst of years of violence and destruction," said Tokyo Sexwale, FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination adviser, South African politician and anti-apartheid activist, who presented the award to Keramuddin Karim, Afghanistan's Football Federations President.
The award was received by Karim who said that Afghanistan had never imagined that it would win the award.
"Thanks to football, we managed to bring unity and solidarity to our country. This award is for everyone who plays football and who loves football, it's about bringing peace to a country that put up with so much conflict for many many years. We never imagined that we would win such a prize," he said.
The football team highlighted that beating India in the South Asian football Federation (SAFF) Championship was the key moment in their footballing history.
In September last year, the Afghan football team won their first major international competition by triumphing in at the expense of India as they downed them 2-0.
After scoring two goals in the first half, Afghan striker Mohammad Maroof sealed victory with the third goal in the second.
The match was promoted as a symbol of football's ability to foster peace and unite countries in a shared love of sport, but the result was celebrated by many Afghans as a sweet victory over an old and bitter adversity.
With the assistance of FIFA's Goal Programme, Afghanistan has been able to construct artificial football pitches used for the second edition of the Afghan Premier League, which concluded in October 2013. These artificial pitches also enabled the growth of grassroots football, allowing a greater number of children to play than ever before.
A major highlight of 2013 for the international footballing community was seeing Kabul play host to the first international friendly between Afghanistan and neighbours Pakistan in nearly ten years. Afghan Football team won the encounter 3-0 in front of delighted and enthusiastic supporters.
At the ceremony, Cristiano Ronaldo ended the four-year dominance of Lionel Messi when he was awarded the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or.
The tearful 28-year-old Real Madrid and Portugal star, who won the award in 2008, had been the overwhelming favourite to pip Barcelona and Argentina wonder Messi, winner the previous four years, and France's Franck Ribery, who claimed the treble with Bayern Munich in 2013.
Ronaldo won with 27.99% of the votes ahead of Messi (24.72%) while Ribery was third (23.36%) according to France Football, co-organisers of the award with FIFA.
Tuesday, 14 January 2014, TOLO News